Declining enrollments in Virginia: implications for state governance

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The problem of this study was to examine and describe some of the courses of action available to legislators and educators as they attempt to face the problem of declining enrollments. Although the study was not designed to provide specific answers to the most common questions, it was intended to provide focus on the central issues and their attendant implications. Specifically, the study was designed to determine the state-level policy implications of declining enrollments in Virginia.

The design of the research was concerned with five major segments of methodology. These segments included: (1) establishing the scope and magnitude of the decline, (2) selecting the tentative associated policy issues, (3) selecting the respondents, (4) conducting the fieldwork, and (5) the analysis of the findings.

Survey instruments were provided to certain members of the State Board of Education, selected individuals within the State Department of Education and 28 school divisions within the state that had experienced significant decreases in pupil population during the time period covered by the study. Individuals were selected to respond based on their knowledge, interest and/or involvement with the problem of declining enrollment. In addition, there were over 30 follow-up interviews with state and local personnel.

Analysis of the data was made by simple tally, by recording comments as received and by probing and recording insights into the problems as revealed by administrators. There was no attempt to quantify or otherwise manipulate the data from the interviews as these tended to be repetitive and self-reinforcing concerning the issues.

The major conclusions of the study were:

  1. To compensate for the decline in numbers of clients for regular programs, new and expanded have been added requiring major shifts in personnel.

  2. Increased funding for public education will be required to compensate for inflation and the higher costs associated with special programs.

  3. Mandated new and expanded programs may require significant additional expenditures both in program and in capital outlay funds.

Some of the recommendations based on the findings of the study were:

  1. A diverse committee of educators and/or planners should be appointed by the State Board of Education to review current enrollments, current program mandates, and future trends in growth and trends.

  2. The State funding formula should be viewed in light of the unique problems created by declining enrollments.

  3. The State Board of Education should seriously consider establishing a long-range planning and policy analysis department.

  4. Either the General Assembly or the State Board of Education should provide adequate and alternate cost analyses of new and expanded programs as they are mandated. This information should be determined for all partners in the financing of education.